Mobile technology is spreading in the contemporary world at a fast rate. It is present in even very young children’s lives. Researchers have noticed the need to examine the impact and influence of this trend upon children’s media literacy. Thus, a number of reports, devoted to a study of the use of multimedia among the youngest users, have emerged in various countries in recent years. The most significant international and national studies are as follows:
- Exploring Play and Creativity in Pre-Schoolers’ Use of Apps
- Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report
- Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America
- Szanse i zagrożenia w obszarze wykorzystania technologii informacyjno-komunikacyjnych (TIK), ze szczególnym uwzględnieniem aplikacji mobilnych (TIK-mobApp) przez dzieci w wieku 3-6 lat (title in English: Benefits and threats in the area of the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), including mobile apps (ICT-mobAPP) used in particular by children aged 3-6)
- The Use of Mobile Devices by Young Children in Poland
Although much more slowly, but also in the area of formal education in Poland, technology is gradually being used to deliver learning content and reach teaching objectives. Currently, the use of tablets in Polish primary schools or kindergartens is not a common phenomenon. These devices are used rather rarely and are usually sourced in the following ways:
- Centralized: government-led initiatives aiming at providing access to modern technology (e.g. within the ministerial program “Digital school”)
- Commercial: commercial suppliers provide devices at no financial cost in return for the teacher testing and developing the use of technology within the classroom (e.g. the Samsung programme “Coding Masters”)
- Contest – related: the class received tablets as a reward (e.g in a competition organized within the eTwinning programme),
- Institutional funds: educational institutions invest their own funds to purchase mobile devices,
- Bring Your Own Device – students bring their own tablets to school on one selected day of the week (e.g. “tablet Fridays”).
Regardless of the source, the implementation of mobile technology in pre-primary or lower primary education has had a novelty dimension in Polish educational institutions so far. The teachers who are aware of educational potential of m-learning make attempts to harness this technology to enhance the teaching process. They find their way to add mobile technology to education; therefore they are often referred to as pioneers in this area. Their actions are examples of good practice and an incentive for inexperienced practitioners. Nowadays, their actions prove crucial, since, in the light of the new core curriculum, valid from September 2017, technology has to be widely integrated into the teaching process from grade one of primary school.
Lower primary teachers who use tablets in the teaching process often document their experiences in the form of blogs or class websites. The materials available on the internet are a source of information for other teachers who search for some ideas about how to add mobile technology to their teaching practice. They can find out what applications have educational value and how they should be used with young learners. It is a source of knowledge for less experienced teachers, who are taking their first steps in the digital environment. The applications described on teachers’ blogs are classroom tested so inexperienced practitioners can benefit a lot. In addition, the teachers’ experiences, described on blogs, can be perceived as examples of good practice and ought to encourage those educators who have some sort of barriers, preventing them from employing new technologies in their teaching process.
Jolanta Okuniewska’s blog “Tableszyt w okładce w motyle” (http://tableciaki.blogspot.com/) is an extremely interesting documentation of a Polish pioneer teacher in tablet education. She has used these devices for several years on a daily basis, mainly in the tasks done as a primary class teacher but also while carrying out eTwinning projects. The teacher often highlights that she perceives and uses a tablet as “a modern piece of equipment of a pencil case”. She teaches her students that a tablet computer is not a toy but an educational tool.
In 2016 she was nominated for the Global Teacher Prize, organized by the Varkey Foundation, and became one of Top 50 Finalists in the competition. The committee appreciated the fact that she pioneered integrating tablets in her primary school classes to enhance learning through self-developed and free e-learning resources. Although the main prize went to another nominee, J. Okuniewska has become one of the Varkey Teacher Ambassadors and a member of the advisory board – as the only European teacher in the group.
Jolanta Okuniewska’s actions are tangible evidence that integrating digital technologies into early education enhances the teaching process and is beneficial both to young learners and the teacher. However, she emphasizes that this process, in order to be carried out in a wise way, requires quite a lot of preparation and is a real challenge for the teacher, a challenge that any teacher can face, regardless of the length of professional work experience.